Saint-Benoît parish celebrates its 125th anniversary
St. Benedict’s Catholic Church in Shawnee will celebrate its 125th anniversary this weekend. The theme of the celebration is “125 Plus One Anniversary Celebration”, alluding to the fact that the 125th anniversary took place last year. However, due to COVID-related restrictions, the church was unable to host a parish-wide celebration.
The celebration will begin on Saturday with a birthday mass at 4:30 p.m. followed by a potluck dinner at the Benedict Center. Mass and dinner are open to all parishioners. The church will provide meat, bread, drinks and a special birthday cake. Those attending dinner are kindly requested to bring a selection of two dishes, either salad, vegetables, pasta, casserole, fruit or dessert. The special guests for the occasion are the Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Saint-Grégoire.
“Celebrating 125 years is a testament to the faith of parishioners and their dedication to knowing and loving Jesus Christ,” said Pastor Joseph Schwarz. “God blessed Saint Benedict with many good people who live their faith every day. I am blessed to be able to serve God and the wonderful people here.
During the celebratory dinner, the celebratory committee will present a Powerpoint presentation of the history of the church. The accompanying persons will also be able to view the various memorable anecdotes written by the parishioners.
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Each parish family will also receive a special gift for the 125th celebration.
On Sunday, the church will have a day open to the public from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Guided tours will be given. During the open day, the public will have the opportunity to view and ask questions about the various objects and customs of the Catholic Church. An area of particular interest is the 22 large stained glass windows around the church. The windows represent different biblical beliefs and stories. Some saints are also represented on the windows. The open day is free for the public.
Another little-known fact about the church is that it also houses the relics of several saints, including those of Saint Benedict, Saint Clare of Assisi, Saint Vincent de Paul, Pope Saint Pius X, Saint Teresa of the Child. . Jesus, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.
Light refreshments will be served during the open house.
Pam Leone, Chair of the Celebration Committee, said: “We are very excited about this occasion and have been preparing for it for months. The church has been here for a long time and has been the center of our communities over the years. We’ve always been proud to be a part of Shawnee’s story.
History of the church
Even before Oklahoma became the 46th state in 1907, Benedictine monks were beginning to establish a presence throughout the region then known as Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory.
The Benedictine monks first arrived in what is now Oklahoma in October 1875. The monks came from the French monastery of Notre Dame de la Pierre-qui-Vire and they traveled to the Indian territory at the suggestion of the Bishop of Little Rock. , Arkansas.
They first arrived in Atoka, Oklahoma, in 1875 and began caring for Native Americans and others who settled in the area. After a few months, the pioneer monks finally settled on land donated by Indians from the Potawatomi Citizen Band. They then established Sacred Heart Abbey near Konawa in 1876. In addition, they also established a school for children in the area.
From their base at Sacred Heart Abbey, Benedictine monks have worked tirelessly to establish more than 40 Catholic parishes and missions in the Oklahoman and Indian territories. Many current parishes in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City and the Diocese of Tulsa are still active. It can be said that the Catholic Church of Oklahoma is built on the foundations laid by these tenacious pioneer Benedictine monks through their perseverance, sacrifice and dedication.
Among the pioneer monks who arrived from France in 1875 was the charismatic Reverend Felix DeGrasse, who was instrumental in founding the parish of Saint-Benoît in Shawnee.
When the area around Shawnee was officially opened to white settlers in 1893, the town was officially founded.
“It was natural for us (the Benedict monks) to organize a parish to serve the Catholic community that had settled in the newly established town of Shawnee,” commented Rt. Reverend Lawrence Stasyszen, current Abbot of the Shawnee Abbey of Saint Gregory. “Fr. Felix DeGrasse accepted the mission with his typical zeal and success.
Bro. DeGrasse became Shawnee’s first missionary priest, often celebrating Mass in the homes of early settlers due to the lack of a permanent place of worship. These settlers included the Timmons, the Cassidys, the Dierkers, the Gleason and the Philip Secks. Welch’s Feed Store, located on West Main Street, was then used regularly for Sunday masses.
In 1895, Fr. DeGrasse purchased land on Park Street between Ninth and Tenth Streets. The construction of the first permanent church and the presbytery began shortly under the title of Saint-Benoît parish. Thus Fr. DeGrasse became the first resident pastor of Saint-Benoît Church.
The church complex was built in the style of an auditorium and was also used by the Sisters of Mercy as a parish school. The school opened in October 1896, educating many Catholic and non-Catholic students.
During school hours, the school was separated from the shrine by a curtain. A large pot-bellied stove provided the heat and kerosene lamps provided the light. Bro. DeGrasse named the church Saint-Benedict Catholic Church in honor of the founder of the Benedictine Order.
It was the first time in 25 years that Catholics scattered across the region had a place they could call their home parish.
Bro. DeGrasse remained parish priest of Saint-Benoît church until 1898. During his curate, Fr. DeGrasse exercised such prudent financial management and responsibility that he was able to say to his parishioners in his farewell homily that he left the parish free from all debt. Bro. DeGrasse later became the abbot of the Abbey of Saint Gregory of Shawnee.
In addition to Shawnee, Fr. DeGrasse also established parishes in Pawhuska, Guthrie, Ponca City, Perry, Mulhall, Langston and Chandler.
In March 1903, Fr. Blaise Haritchabalet, OSB, was appointed parish priest.
The town of Shawnee continued to grow after the turn of the century and St. Benedict Parish grew with it. It wasn’t long before the congregation realized that it had grown too big for the church building and that there was a lot of talk of a bigger church and even a new location.
One story was told that one Sunday when Fr. Maurus Fuerstenberg, then assistant pastor, asked the congregation what to do about the burgeoning congregation, a long freight train came blowing and whistling nearby. Bro. Fuerstenberg had to stop until the train passed. This incident greatly helped the parishioners decide to move to another location and build a larger place of worship.
Subsequently, Fr. Haritchabalet organized the purchase of the current location (the land on Kickapoo and Benedict streets). In 1904, a two-storey brick rectory was erected on the new site. Adjoining the rectory was a large stone garage, which for some years served as an art studio for Fr. Gregory Gerrer, OSB, who had returned from art studies in Europe in 1904. His paintings and collection art then started the Mabee-Gerrer Museum located on the campus of St. Gregory University.
The old Church on Park Street was then moved to the new location and used as both a church and a school.
In 1906, construction began on the current Saint-Benoît Church, and on July 29, 1906, the cornerstone of the new church was laid. The new Saint-Benoît church was consecrated on May 12, 1907.
Bro. Haritchabalet remained a pastor until 1915, when St. Gregory College opened its doors and he was appointed the first president of the college.
Bro. Robert Maloney, OSB, succeeded Fr. Haritchabalet as parish priest. In 1919, the St. Benedict School building was constructed. In 1958, a new school building was built in addition to the old school. The gymnasium was completed a year later. The new school building began as St. Benedict High School, which consisted of grades 9 through 12, while the old building was used for grades 1 through 8.
The high school was eventually forced to close in 1964 due to declining enrollment, and the elementary school was moved to its building.
The Mercy Sister continued to operate St. Benedict’s School until 1974 when they withdrew from Shawnee.
From the founding of the parish by Fr. DeGrasse in 1895 until 2008, the Church of Saint-Benoît was run by Benedictine monks from the Abbey of the Sacred Heart (and later from Saint-Grégoire). The only exception was Fr. Zenon Steber, who served as pastor from 1901 to 1902.
In 2008, after providing pastoral care to St. Benedict’s Church for 113 years, St. Gregory Abbey decided to abdicate the administrative and personnel responsibilities of the parish to the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma. City.
“During more than a century of service in the parish, the monks of Sacré-Cœur / St. The Abbey of Grégoire has received many blessings thanks to its ministry in the parish of Saint-Benoît ”, commented Father Stasyszen. “We are grateful for the support, encouragement and collaboration of parishioners over the years. “
Father Stasyszen noted that two of the monks claim St. Benedict as their parish of origin – the late Reverend Michael Roethler, OSB, who was president of St. Gregory’s College and who was also pastor from 1991 to 1995, and Stasyszen himself, who was born and raised in Tecumseh and was associate pastor of the parish at one point.
The current pastor of Saint-Benoît church is Fr. Joseph Schwarz, who has been in this position since 2013. He is assisted by the associate pastor, Fr. Laurent Damien. A team of three deacons also help with ministries and pastoral services. They are David Schrupp, William Thurman and Roy Callison.
Currently, about 600 families in the northern two-thirds of Pottawatomie County call St. Benedict’s Church their home parish.